Massachusetts Landlords May Trigger Quiet Enjoyment and Anti-Retaliation Statutes

There is a constant whine in Massachusetts akin to the Taos hum.  It appears on further inspection to be Massachusetts landlords continually griping about the alleged unfairness of Massachusetts landlord-tenant law – despite winning the supermajority of judgments in eviction cases. It is true that landlords may end up on the hook for substantial judgments in rare cases, but the reality is that those judgments simply represent compensation due the tenant for what the landlord was up to in those circumstances.

The real reason landlords are banged out in such brutal fashion is either 1) they are narcissistic and are going to do whatever they want or 2) they never bothered to understand the law and want to decry the laws as “unfair” when it was their own ignorance that cost them…plain and simple. Ignorance of the law is no affirmative defense in housing court.

In Ianello v CMC, 400 Mass. 321 (1987) the Supreme Judicial Court held that a landlord violated both the Quiet Enjoyment and Anti-Retaliation statutes when it locked a tenant out of a conference/exercise room indefinitely, in response to tenant’s resisting a rent-increase with other tenants at the property. The protected behavior was both the tenant’s resistance and engaging in tenant union activity with other tenants by discussing resisting the rent increase. Ianello v CMC, 400 Mass. 321, 323-325 (1987). The Court there awarded the triple rent clause under the Quiet Enjoyment law and also one month under the Anti-Retaliation law, holding this was not duplicative recovery.

The landlord in that case may hypothetically be upset the law protected the tenant’s right to not pay a rent increase until certain conditions were met. S/he may prattle on about how unfair this “state” is and how they’ve “been in the business 25 years and never had to deal with this,” or other irrelevant whining. The simple facts of that case show a landlord who decided it was a one way street, trampling over the Legislature and Courts in the childish tantrum, and unilaterally effectuated a partial actual eviction of the tenant from that exercise/conference room by locking the door indefinitely – when the legal remedy was eviction for non-payment of rent after determination of the tenancy – which may in itself be insufficient to rebut the Anti-Retaliation law, M.G.L. c.186 s.18 and M.G.L. c.239 s.2A.